|Dan "Boom" Herron|
The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
In fact, it didn't take any time at all, as the Buckeyes' leading rusher from a season ago was inserted on the very first play of Saturday's showdown at Illinois.
It also didn't take long for Herron to make an impact on the game.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound fifth-year senior from Warren (OH) ran for gains of six, eight and nine yards on his first three carries of the opening series, and continued his assault on the Illini defense the rest of the way by finishing with 114 yards on 23 carries (5.0 avg.), including a 12-yard touchdown. It was the 13th consecutive game in which Herron has found pay dirt.
As great as Herron looked in his return, though, there are actually people who questioned Buckeyes head coach Luke Fickell for starting him after being suspended five games for receiving improper benefits and another contest for getting paid hours for a summer job that he didn't work.
For those people who questioned why Fickell started Herron obviously haven't spent much time around the team, because if they had, they would see that Herron wasn't your typical NCAA prisoner.
He never denied guilt about being caught by the NCAA for selling game-used items for cash and receiving discounted services from a local tattoo parlor. He didn't try to cover up that he made $252.50 from a summer job he didn't earn. He didn't point fingers and cry 'Woe is me' by quitting the team and filing for the NFL's supplemental draft, either.
No, he stayed at Ohio State like he promised he would back in December. He didn't go into exile ... he just paid his debts, served his time and mentored those who were still able to play.
"(I've learned) to think twice when making decisions," Herron said. "It really made me grow up as a man. Just looking at things a lot different and not taking anything for granted."
Although he knew he wasn't going to participate in a game until October, he was by far the most vocal leader in fall camp. He could constantly be seen and heard on the practice field teaching, praising — and sometimes constructively criticizing — his young, inexperienced teammates.
"He's gone through a lot and he's sacrificed a lot and he's learned a lot," Fickell said of Herron. "But the biggest thing is what Boom means to this team and what he means in the locker room and what he means on the field."
Coming into the Illinois game, the biggest thing that Ohio State lacked was a true leader. A face of the team. A voice with passion. Those are all aspects that perfectly exemplify Herron and what he brings to the Buckeyes.
Sure, young runners like Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall have proven to be successful this season running the football, but neither lifts the team emotionally like Herron.
"(Herron's) a special kid," said Buckeyes running backs coach Doc Tressel. "The other running backs had done a great job, but we definitely missed him. He gives us emotion and enthusiasm, and he doesn't have to prepare to do that, it just comes out of him (naturally)."
With Herron, the Buckeyes were able to pick up their first Big Ten victory of the season against an unbeaten Illinois team, even though they completed just one pass for the entire game. They rode the legs of their leader, and left Champaign as victors.
It was apparent that his passion and emotion spread throughout the team like wildfire in Saturday's win.
"I was definitely happy to be back on the field," Herron said. "Missing my teammates and missing the first six games was definitely hard on me."
Again, Herron was the one who was punished. Herron was the one who had to live with his mistakes. Herron was the one who made sacrifices for the good of the team. Herron was the one who paid his debts.
And that's why Herron was the one who started at Illinois.